It seems I can only write from the middle seat these days, peering out a tiny window at nothing but sky. This morning, I'm on Southwest flight 185, en route to Albuquerque, New Mexico, a city I've never visited before. It feels like an in-and-out trip, bookended by long shuttle trips to and from Santa Ana Pueblo and a golf resort I'll see from afar, when I wake up and just before bedtime.
I assume the conference room where I'll spend Thursday will be windowless — potentially airless and lifeless, too — and I fully expect my fingers to be numb by the time I'm done spending the day on autopilot, taking unintelligible-to-me notes at an association meeting.
But I like it. These occasional freelance assignments give me an opportunity to be a paid fly on the wall, fading into the neutral background with only the click-clack of my keyboard to distract or unintentionally draw notice to myself.
I spend a lot of time saying, "LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!" — Hi. Welcome. — and this is a different sort of me time, though my time isn't at all my own.
Sometimes I just crave the quiet. Catless, choreless, foreign-environment, keycard-entry quiet.
I turned 30 a couple of weeks ago.
I never worried about this slide into a new decade; maybe it's because I've always had an old soul, or maybe it's because I'm finally able to tell myself, "Look at everything you've done already," instead of fixating on all the supposed milestones of adulthood that I just haven't hit by now.
Maybe it's something else.
Still, I'd planned to let April 12 come and go without fanfare — kind of how I prefer to do birthdays — but instead, it turned into a weeks-long orgy of celebrations and rich meals, beginning with Mark's and my trip to New Orleans and culminating in a surprise visit to Chicago by my mom and stepfather.
The last time my mom and I spent any time together in Chicago, I made her cry. I sent her into hysterics in the middle of Carnivale's dining room, at a tiny table in the middle of a cavernous room with high ceilings and riotous colors, surrounded by a loud, boisterous dinner crowd. She kept her head down as I ordered more tiny tapas-style dishes from the server, who didn't have a clue, and drank her way through dinner while I picked at our bacon-wrapped dates and cheese plate.
That was three years ago — a couple of lives ago, really — when I was dating the nightmare man of my dreams, miserable in my job and indignant that anyone should know what was good for me than I would.
She is the same today: strong, level-headed, concerned for my well-being. I am still indignant that anyone should know better than me…but three-years-ago me wouldn't recognize my life today.
We spent a chilly Saturday sipping Starbucks while we got pedicures, both screwing up our faces when the pumice stone came out, both horrendously ticklish but trying our hardest to resist kicking the women at our feet in their faces.
Then I whisked her off to Baume & Brix, the restaurant where Mark works, for a couple of cocktails that obviously turned into a lavish meal. We ate sous-vide and char-grilled curlicues of octopus, dunked in flavored powders like Fun Dip, and did a little table dance at the first bite of potato chip gnocchi, sent out by the chefs, the plate streaked with allium cream and dotted with black caviar.
I sipped wine while she nursed a Manhattan. And instead of crying and raising our voices, we talked like adults. We laughed. We poked fun at each other. We enjoyed each other's company like a mother and her thirtysomething daughter ought to.
And that's the real reason I never worried about turning 30. Because I felt this all coming. Knew that all the struggles would lead to something good — and productive — and happy. Thirty years in, and maybe I'm actually starting to figure out how to do this life thing.
The quiet helps, even if I only find it occasionally.